Is Godís Grace Fair?
February 12, 2006
I will never forget a conversation I had with a
fellow in St. Cloud, Minnesota about twenty five years ago. On my day off I used to go to a rather nice pool hall to
shoot pool for a couple of hours. This
guy was a pretty good pool player, though he was rather profane in his
language. I think he took
Godís name in vain just to annoy me and to throw me off my game.
He called me preacher, but never showed the slightest interest in
what I preached. I kept
inviting him to church, but he never came.
One day, the manís curiosity got the better of him.
In a respectful tone he asked me what I preached about.
ďHereís my chance,Ē I thought.
I had to say it just right.
I didnít want to blow it.
So, I carefully explained to the man how Jesus had taken the
place of all sinners. I
told him how God placed the blame for everyoneís sins on Jesus who
suffered for them. I told
him how God gave to these same sinners the credit for Jesusí holy life
of obedience. Jesus took
the blame for what we did wrong and God gave us the credit for what
Jesus did right. I thought that was pretty simple, and also quite comforting
to know. He thought about
what I said for a moment and then he blurted out: ďBut thatís not
fair! Jesus should get the
credit for what He did, and the sinners should get the blame for what
they did.Ē He looked at
me as if I were a rather dull child, not to see how unfair it was.
I told him, yes, I suppose it looked unfair, but thatís the
only way a sinner could find salvation from sin.
The fellow then reverted to his typically profane self, and made
a few jokes about hell, pretending not to believe in it as he talked
about going there to be with all his friends.
Well, I tried, I thought. I
wish I could have done a better job.
It took a while to learn that it wasnít a matter
of my doing a better job. The
fact is that the Christian faith is quite unfair, judging by human
standards. Jesusí parable
about the workers in the vineyard all getting paid the same amount of
money tells us that God just isnít fair the way we understand
fairness. Thank God for
You want fair?
Then you can face God without Christ bearing your sins on the
cross. See where you stand
then. You want fair? You can try to win over Godís approval by your own life and
your own religious devotion. But you wonít succeed.
The fact is, if you know the truth about yourself, you donít
want fair. You want mercy.
You want grace. You want God to treat you, not as you deserve, but according
to His boundless love and undeserved kindness.
The parable Jesus told of the workers in the
vineyard is one that would have been well understood by people of
Jesusí day. When the time
had come to harvest the grapes, there was a short period of time before
the winter rains would come. The
harvest had to be finished before then or it would be ruined.
Men were hired to work in the vineyard, not just at six in the
morning (which was the first hour), but throughout the whole day.
Laborers were needed and they would be hired at any time of the
day. In those days, the
working man did not have much in the area of savings.
A dayís wage, which was a denarius, could be the difference
between a man feeding his family and having them go hungry.
So when a man was hired to do less than a dayís wage but was
paid a whole dayís wage, that was a wonderful kind of generosity.
God is generous.
Do we approve or disapprove of this?
God is gracious. Do
we agree with God being gracious? This
is the issue this parable places before us.
What do we think of Godís grace?
Do we regard it as unfair? Or
do we regard it as the most wonderful treasure we have in this life?
Those who were hired at the eleventh hour are
rewarded for the work that others have done.
And so it is for the Christian.
The Christian Ė that is, the believer, the saint Ė is the one
who trusts in the work done by Another, namely Jesus.
Jesus was crucified at the third hour, at the sixth He was
suffering fully the penalty for all of our sins, at the ninth hour He
was crying out, ďIt is finished,Ē and at the eleventh hour He had
been taken down from the cross and laid in the grave.
The work of our salvation had all been done.
All is done by the eleventh hour.
All is done and the reward is given to those who have done
nothing to earn it.
Naturally, those who were working hard were angry
to be made the equals of those who did no work at all.
It wasnít fair. Listen
to the words of the parable:
They were right about that.
They understood the gospel intellectually. They just didnít believe it.
Like that pool player in St. Cloud.
He didnít reject the gospel because he didnít understand it.
He rejected it because he did understand it.
Jesus teaches us an equality more radical than the most radical
reformers. He teaches an
equality that human pride cannot tolerate.
Oh, folks love to talk about equality, but they donít believe
in it. They just say they
do. Human notions of
equality pertain to social, political, or economic equality. So there are the Communists who preach equality while
attacking business interests, and then, when they are in power, proceed
to impoverish the entire nation except themselves.
They learned their bloody ideology from the French Revolution
which promised liberty, equality, and brotherhood, and in order to show
how seriously they took their creed, they used the guillotine to enforce
it until the streets of Paris were flowing with blood.
Even the milder forms of enforced equality impose quite the
opposite of what is promised. Feminism,
which promised to liberate women by making them equal with men, has
become the civil creed of our nation during the same time that women
have been more callously exploited by merchants of sex than ever before.
No, equality as humanly constructed promises but doesnít
deliver. Sadly, the bogus
human notions of equality often invade the church and pass themselves
off as Godís own word.
In the sixties and seventies the cause for equality
in the church was the ordination of women.
Now this is taken for granted.
Today the cause for equality in the church is the ordination of
homosexuals and recognizing homosexual marriage.
The church is told that she must pursue equality.
But the Bible condemns the ordination of women.
It condemns homosexuality. When
the church sets aside the Scriptures she relies instead on carnal
standards and ends of doing the devilís work for him.
True equality isnít something the church must pursue or
achieve. It isnít a
social or political condition that comes about by applying the right
principles or by electing the right politicians or by overcoming age-old
prejudices and systemic discrimination.
We will never have this kind of equality here on
this earth. The only kind
of equality we will have here on earth is the kind that Jesus offers.
It is more radical than anything devised by man or woman.
Do you remember what Jesus did when his disciples were arguing
among themselves over who would have what power in the church?
Listen to the words of St. Matthew 18:2-5.
And Jesus called a little
child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ďAssuredly, I
say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you
will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one little child like this in My name
We must take Jesusí words very seriously, for he
teaches us the same thing in the parable that we are considering today.
He sets the standards of true worth, true value, and true status
in his church. Jesus does.
We donít. And it
is Jesus who says that if you donít become like a little child, you
cannot be a Christian. Whoever
will not humble himself will by no means enter into heaven.
Jesus cares nothing for the standards of fallen sinful mankind. He cares nothing about human merit, human achievement, human
glory, and human worth. Jesus
says that the last will be first and the first last.
The very idea that the church of Jesus Christ should be used as a
vehicle for social change to achieve some sort of mythical equality here
on earth visible to the human eye is a rejection of Christ himself.
But then, it is also as Jesus says, ďMany are called, but few
We all want equality when it makes us powerful.
Do we want it when it makes us weak?
Do we want it when it requires us to set aside all reliance on
our own powers and to regard a little child as our equal?
Oh, how we treasure our labor.
How we wonít be cheated without making a federal case out of
it. How we want to be
acknowledged for every deed, every contribution we make.
And then to hear Jesus say, ďBut you havenít really earned
anything at all. Whatever
you receive in the kingdom of heaven is pure grace. Someone else earned it for you.
You earned nothing at all.Ē
Look at the newly baptized baby. What accomplishments can you see? What great feats of human virtue or what impressive acts of
human commitment? What
spiritual achievements? What
do you see? You see a little baby who can do nothing but to receive.
You see someone the world knows is small and helpless and unable
to earn anything from anyone. Are you willing to be such a person? Are you willing to regard all of your labor as a Christian as
meriting nothing at all? Are
you willing to be the very last? Look
at the baptized infant Ė not at him, but at the promises of his
gracious God Ė see a wealth that the world can only imagine, but never
bestow. See a place in
heaven among the angels sharing in the glory of God himself.
See a righteousness more pure and holy than anything done by the
greatest saints who have ever lived.
See a peace of soul and conscience unmarred by any sin of any
kind. See a saint in
Godís kingdom, who received his saintliness without doing a thing to
get it. Now can you see yourself?
You donít want fair.
You want mercy. This
is what Jesus wants you to know. If
you want fair, you donít know what you want, because simple fairness
requires that you pay your own debt of sin.
The pool player in St. Cloud was right about that.
Fair is not what we really want.
Mercy is what we really want.
And that we why we are here today.
When you have seen Jesus suffer for you, labor for
you, bear the heat of the sun and the backbreaking work for you, you
know you cannot do it for yourself.
So you rest in Jesus and find your peace in him.
You claim your status as a little child who can do nothing but
receive the gift that is given. And
what a wonderful status it is! Just
look at how all of your failures, your offenses, your guilt, your shame,
your punishment, and your sorrow have been laid on Jesus.
Look at how He patiently takes it all in, swallows it up, and
bears it in his innocent body and soul.
Look at that Jesus. He
is your life. He offers you mercy in the place of fairness.
He forgives you all your sins.
He has every right to do so because He bore them.
And He joins you in a mystical union with everyone else, male and
female, young and old, rich and poor, of every tribe, language, people,
and nation who have received him in simple, childlike faith.
He has made you their equal and he has made them your equal
because He has given to every member of his church the same mercy from
the same bitter suffering and death.
The rich he has sent empty away.
They have been paid for their labor and they must leave.
Pray Jesus that he keep us humbly trusting in His merits alone,
that we may stay with Him now and always.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus